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Fiery Union: It Was Love At First Light

Tue., Aug. 1, 1995

Every romance may generate a few sparks, sure, but this affair is one flame-broiled whopper.

Todd Espeland and Allison Williams traveled 4,000 miles and four centuries back in time to show off their burning love.

The road is long for this couple who eat fire for a living.

“We have to trust each other completely,” says Todd, 26, who drove to Spokane from Florida with Allison in four days. “We do things that can hurt each other all the time.”

These two look like healthy, well-adjusted people. They wear clothes you might see in an Eddie Bauer catalog. They drive a minivan.

Nobody would suspect that the van carries the tools of such a bizarre trade: a fold-up bed of 6-inch spikes, volatile chemicals, double-edged razor blades, strange costumes …

Todd and Allison are on a mission to rekindle fire-eating and other offbeat stage arts that all but winked out decades ago with the death of vaudeville.

Appearing at the weekend Northwest Renaissance Festival near Tum Tum, their “Isabella and Arlecchino Show” mixes hip humor with fire-eating, razor-blade swallowing and lying on a bed of nails.

It’s fast-paced fun:

Isabella - “Before I lie on the Bed of Doom, I need a cushion. I need something soft, something mushy, something flimsy, something completely without substance.”

Arlecchino (holding up the front page of The Spokesman-Review) - “Except for Doug Clark’s column, only this flimsy piece of journalism will keep these pointed spikes from gouging into her dainty back.”

Isabella - “Hmm. Not much of a cushion.”

Only destiny (or Dante) could bring about such a fiery union. Allison, a Floridian, flew to Blue Lake, Calif., last year to audition for the prestigious Dell’Arte School of Acting.

She met Todd, a graduate student. Soon they discovered they each independently had mastered the age-old mystery of fire consumption.

It was love at first light.

“We choreographed a nightclub show where we dance to music and light torches off each other’s tongues,” says Todd, who earned a college degree in theater from the University of Nevada.

Unlike magic shows or the Bill Clinton presidency, there is no fakery when it comes to sticking flames in one of your body’s most tender orifices. It’s an extremely risky stunt tried by only a handful of loons.

Allison, 22, can vouch for the danger. On her chest is a ribbon of scars caused by an accident at a Chicago nightclub.

She blew a fireball. A gust from the club’s air conditioner blew it right back into her face.

Someone tossed a towel over her head before she went the way of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. “I was thinking, ‘No more pretty young bimbo roles for me,”’ says Allison.

Eating fire is a tightly guarded secret few fire-eaters will share. Both Todd and Allison learned on their own after professionals had refused to spill the kerosene.

The Renaissance Festival, which concludes next weekend, needs a lot more pros like Todd and Allison if it is to survive for a second season.

The supposed faux-English village is found 18 miles northwest of Spokane on Nine Mile Road. It’s a four-century time warp with minstrels and brogue-speaking actors in period costumes.

Festival organizers hoped for 3,000 visitors a day by this time. Sunday afternoon, it appeared as if the dusty camp’s 40-some actors outnumbered customers 2-to-1.

One reason may be the 10-bucks-a-head charge for anyone older than 12. That’s waaay steep for the mostly amateur theatrics.

But it does show to what lengths a fireeater will go for a moment in the spotlight.

“It’s crazy, I know,” says Allison of her craft. “My mother is terrified somebody’s going to call her up one day and say, ‘Ma’am, your daughter’s been sauteed.”’

, DataTimes

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